Kimberly Williamson Butler's repeated attempts to blame a state-contracted moving company for part of the voting machine debacle may bring both her office and the Alabama-based carrier more unwanted scrutiny -- this time from federal highway safety officials, Gambit Weekly has learned.
Since the debacle exploded into public view, Butler and her staff have repeatedly said drivers for Covan World-Wide Moving Inc. worked 18 consecutive hours delivering voting machines citywide -- but failed to return from a two-hour break to finish the job by the time the polls opened at 6 a.m. on Election Day.
The drivers eventually returned, Butler and her staff said, but 106 voting machines were delivered late to 18 percent of the city's precincts with the last delivery being made at 3 p.m. -- five hours before the polls closed. Butler has called for the cancellation of Covan's public bid contract with the secretary of state.
Meanwhile, the delivery ordeal may have violated new federal safety regulations that took effect in January. Regulations allows for a "short-haul" driver to work 16 consecutive hours, but the driver must still take a 10-hour break, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the federal agency that regulates the trucking industry.
"Once you go off duty, you must take off 10 hours," says state Police Capt. Tim Sharkey, who stressed he is unfamiliar with the New Orleans incident. A driver who violates the federal requirement for consecutive hours -- and his or her motor carrier -- may face civil penalties. Federal investigators generally investigate such cases for the FMCSA, state police say.
Asked how the federal regulations might apply to Covan employees who worked the election, Butler appeared to retreat from repeated public statements by her and her staff that Covan movers worked 18 consecutive hours and that the workers began delivering voting machines as early as 6 a.m. Friday.
"I don't have the exact number of hours," Butler told Gambit Weekly. "I would have to check my documents." She acknowledges the federal regulations might have been a concern for the Alabama-based company. "It raises other questions in terms of whether or not, if there are any problems, whether or not they are required to have another shift of drivers," Butler says. "Is their responsibility to complete the delivery or only work a certain number of hours?"
She declined to discuss further specifics of her complaint against Covan and referred a reporter to both the state election code and the company's contract with the secretary of state, which were unavailable at press time. Butler also declined to discuss other specifics of the election debacle, citing the ongoing state attorney general's investigation.
Andy Coleman, vice-president of operations at Covan, says the company is cooperating with the state attorney general's investigation and he did not want to comment before the probe was completed. "I am not too concerned about the results," Coleman says. "We have done work in New Orleans for a number of years and never had a problem. I think the storm ... contributed to a number of the problems."